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Shields and Brooks on Hagel’s Rough Hearing, Movement on Immigration

February 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks talk with Judy Woodruff about Hillary Clinton leaving the State Department, Chuck Hagel's first confirmation hearing for Decretary of Defense, as well as congressional testimony on gun control and political momentum for immigration reform.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That is syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Well, gentlemen.

MARK SHIELDS: Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Hillary Clinton, we just heard this discussion, David. The two of you weighed in on her legacy last week. And I think both of you agreed, in essence, that she didn’t have an overarching strategy. There was some pushback from viewers, who said she brought credibility to the United States.

Anything to add, David, on that?

DAVID BROOKS: I respect the credibility of the viewers.

You know, every White House I have covered since Reagan, when I got here, power has been more concentrated in the White House than the one before. And this administration certainly continues that trend. And so decision-making power, whether it’s on foreign affairs or domestic affairs, is concentrated in the White House in a reasonably small circle.

And I do think Hillary Clinton executed that policy. So was there a big new strategy that one associates with her? No. But she did execute and she executed energetic.

JUDY WOODRUFF: A lot of talk, Mark, about 2016. Do you have a thought about whether she is going to go or not?

MARK SHIELDS: I do, Judy, but I can’t reveal right now.

But, no, I mean, she brought to it total command of the issues.

She is articulate. She was a rare secretary of state that, if the president wasn’t going to be there, foreign leaders were more than mollified or they were satisfied to see her, because she was a towering national figure in her own right.

And one thing that — sort of a negative positive, there were no leaks. If there were tensions with the White House, and I know there were, that, boy, there weren’t from her. She ran a leak-proof ship.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you give her credit for that?

MARK SHIELDS: I do. I give her enormous credit for that and for the …

JUDY WOODRUFF: And not the White House?

MARK SHIELDS: Well …

DAVID BROOKS: Well, both.

MARK SHIELDS: The White House — I mean, the White House is hermetically sealed as far as leaks.

DAVID BROOKS: I would also add that it’s rare in an administration for a secretary of state and a secretary of defense to get along really well. There is some natural tension there. And she Gates and she and Panetta got along fabulously.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, who, David, the president wants to be the secretary of defense, hearing yesterday, confirmation hearing before the Senate, pretty rough going.

What did you take away from that?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I thought it was terrible. I thought he did a very poor job.

And we have interviewed him. We have — Mark and I have said nice things about him. I certainly have enjoyed the interviews I have had with him, but he really did a bad job. He projected weakness, which is not something you want in a secretary of defense. He could not even respond to freshman senators with any force or vigor.

He projected a guy who hadn’t prepared. Some of these questions were obvious questions, about the surge, about some of the things he had said on Al-Jazeera. You have got to have an answer. It’s like somebody who walks into a big moment of their life without having done their homework.

And so I still think he will be confirmed on more or less party-line votes. But if it was up to sort of a looking for a boost of — a sign of competence, this wasn’t it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How did you see it?

MARK SHIELDS: I disagree. I thought he was compelling …

… electrifying.

No, he didn’t help himself. He did struggle.

He didn’t appear to be prepared for the questions, I mean, for the intensity and hostility of the questions, especially from his former Republican colleagues, beginning with John McCain, who apparently is convinced at this point in his life that the most seminal event in U.S. history wasn’t the Constitutional Convention or Concord or Lexington or Appomattox. It was the surge.

And where you stood on the surge…

JUDY WOODRUFF: In Iraq.

MARK SHIELDS: In Iraq — that determines whether, in fact, you are a visionary or a retrograde.

But I was — it was a lousy performance by Chuck Hagel. He had obviously decided he wasn’t going get confrontational. When Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, basically accused him of dishonesty, raised questions about his honorary and what he would do, I mean, the idea that Chuck Hagel that David and I know didn’t say, wait a minute, you know — and he did it the last question: I’m out of time now, but let me ask you about this about your speeches and what you got and when you reported and didn’t report.

I mean, at that point, Chuck Hagel says, let me tell you, you know, you have just raised a question. I don’t care about time or time being out. This is my time to tell you, you know, that you are absolutely wrong. And that — and that was just missing completely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So there is some reporting that Hagel — this was a deliberate strategy on Hagel’s part …

MARK SHIELDS: It was.

JUDY WOODRUFF: … not to be confrontational.

MARK SHIELDS: Not to be …

JUDY WOODRUFF: But you are saying, if that is what it was, it didn’t work.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

The senators were awful. Let’s just get one thing straight. We just had the highest suicide rate in the history of the U.S. military recorded. We had to get one senator, Joe Donnelly, the most junior member from Indiana, before anybody even asked about suicides. Nobody asked about the troops. Nobody asked about military families.

I mean, and, you know, Israel is important. It’s crucial. Iran is important — 117 times, Israel was mentioned by questioners. And yet I didn’t hear anything about widows and orphans and what we’re going to do about returning veterans without jobs and post-traumatic stress.

DAVID BROOKS: I think that’s fair.

But the surge was a major event in recent defense history. The secretary should have a view on that.

MARK SHIELDS: He should have a view.

DAVID BROOKS: If you go in a confirmation process, you’re going to be asked about the embarrassing or stupid things you said. You should have a view.

You should certainly be able to express the administration’s position on Iran correctly, which he didn’t do. He didn’t do the containment thing.

MARK SHIELDS: That was — that was terrible.

DAVID BROOKS: He got that wrong.

Now, I agree the questions — but his job is to administer the Defense Department in a time of defense cuts. That’s — and so if you are interested in the competence, I agree. They should have been asking about that. But the doubt would be, if he can’t be the tough guy here, well, it’s going to require a tough guy to cut the Defense Department intelligently. You’re going to have to stand up to a lot of very vested interests. And we just have to know he can do that.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, that clip you — they played on Hillary Clinton addressing her critics before the Foreign Relations Committee, was — and the senators time and time again, even if they would ask these cosmic questions about the globe, they would come back to, well, what about my base? You know, let’s get down to the really important things, back home. You know, are you going to keep my base?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Funding for that.

MARK SHIELDS: Yes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now, David just said he thinks he will still be confirmed. Do you have a thought on that?

MARK SHIELDS: I do. I mean, I do think he will be confirmed.

I mean, the vote, first vote will be in the committee. It’s 14-12.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Party lines.

MARK SHIELDS: I think, right now, Roy Blunt, the Republican, announced against him today. That was a possibility.

So it looks more and more like a party-line vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, the other attention that got a lot of attention this week was — or the other hearing that got a lot of it was on gun violence, very poignant testimony from Gabrielle Giffords, the former congresswoman, and then the NRA represented by some pretty remarkable pushback from Wayne LaPierre and some other folks.

Does this change — I mean, where are we in the debate over what’s going to happen about guns? I mean, has it moved, David?

DAVID BROOKS: Well, in terms of the theater of the hearings, Giffords and the people who want more gun control certainly dominated.

I still think the NRA is weirdly inept. I assume they know what they are doing. This is their business. But they are not projecting it, at least to me. And having said that, though, my sense is — and it’s just a vague atmospheric sense — that a lot of the oomph has gone out of the president’s initiative and what Biden is doing.

He is up there working hard, but it’s very hard for members of Congress to vote when their calls — their phones are being flooded. And the people who really vote on this issue are on the gun rights side. And so I sense a little dissipation in the passion.

And it’s still possible to get some reforms on gun control — on the background checks and things like that. But one senses — like the immigration, you see a move. You see real movement toward a possible law. I don’t see that same sort of bipartisan or even partisan in a few movement on the gun stuff.

JUDY WOODRUFF: You see it petering out …

MARK SHIELDS: No, I don’t.

I think that — I think there is emerging consensus on the universal background check. And it’s something that the NRA did support in the past and is now opposing. I mean, the NRA strategy is something else. I mean, when they have got David Keene, who has been on our program, is the president, is sort of avuncular and reasoned, and then they go with Wayne LaPierre, who is bombastic and strident, and following Gabby Giffords and especially Mark Kelly, her husband, who said that, in fact, if there were a background — background — that Gabby Giffords wouldn’t have been testifying that day.

I think there is a good chance on high-capacity magazines. I mean, when you have got military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, they’re intended for one purpose. And that is to inflict as much damage on human beings in as short as time as possible. That is what they are there for.

I thought the president showed some presence when he talked about people growing up with rifles, a 10-year-old receiving a rifle from his father, that there is not the demonizing of the other side, of people who have firearms and as part of their family and tradition. I thought that showed a certain maturity and, I hope, a political awareness.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We know the president is going to keep talking about this. He is due to go to, I guess, Minnesota on Monday to talk about the gun issue again.

David, you mentioned immigration. There was that — you had the bipartisan group of senators come out this week with a plan. Then, the next day, the president rolled out his plan. So you do see some movement there?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, I do. I do.

The Republicans clearly want to move more than they have. The right-wing talk radio is more divided than it has been. I think the evidence going is all points in the right direction. And I think we have got very little good economic news coming. If we’re going to boost the economy, create some dynamism in the economy, increasing the number of high school immigrants in particular is pretty of the only level we have got these days.

So, there is a strong economic argument. My only fear is we get distracted by sort of secondary and tertiary issues, like what kind of fence is built and what triggers to what. And, so far, the debate is being shifted off to those other issues, and missing the main benefit of an immigration reform bill, which is the dignity of the people who are here, but also the economic growth we would get out of it.

MARK SHIELDS: David makes a good case.

The reality is that the Republicans twice had Mitt Romney as a potential nominee. They chose him in 2008 — 2012. In 2008 and 2012, he had been the most get tough on illegal immigrants, on undocumented immigrants, illegals, as he called them, accused John McCain of wanting to give them Social Security checks, accused Mike Huckabee selling out to them with the DREAM Act in Arkansas, was really the most strident.

And we saw what happened. It’s not simply, Judy, Hispanics. The country will be 9 percent Asian in 2050 — the electorate will be. That is a group of voters who have felt even more alienated from Republicans. So you have got — the Republicans are looking at a country that is going to be a majority minority country in just over a generation. And they are an increasingly white party. And …

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you are saying that is an incentive …

MARK SHIELDS: It’s a — and John McCain has been candid about it. He said: My own state, the demographics of my own state are changing. It will be — Arizona will be a Democratic state.

Jeb Bush has predicted that, by 2030, Texas will be a blue state, unless the Republicans act on this. He’s one of the few people who has sounded this alarm in his party.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, your thoughts?

DAVID BROOKS: The Republicans are actually pretty smart about this. They say immigration is a threshold issue. It is not enough to get the Latino vote, but you have got to get over that threshold to even get a hearing.

MARK SHIELDS: It’s not the silver bullet. But they — I mean, if Mitt Romney had got the percentage Ronald Reagan did of Hispanics, he would have defeated Barack Obama.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of thresholds, the Super Bowl Sunday night, I’m going to put you both on the spot. Call the score. Who is going to win? Which coach?

MARK SHIELDS: The score will be 2-0. No, that is baseball, isn’t it?

MARK SHIELDS: No.

John Harbaugh, the …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ravens.

MARK SHIELDS: … Baltimore Ravens coach, the kid who wasn’t the starting quarterback, wasn’t the golden boy, and the Baltimore — San Francisco is beautiful. It’s a wonderful city. Tony Bennett sings a great song. Herb Caen called it Baghdad on the bay. It’s romantic.

Baltimore, Charm City, will win 24-21.

DAVID BROOKS: He’s putting his faith in Joe Flacco. Good luck with that.

MARK SHIELDS: Joe Flacco.

DAVID BROOKS: Listen, San Francisco has a better defense. We have much higher ratings in San Francisco than in Baltimore.

DAVID BROOKS: San Francisco — the 49ers are going to win 42-17.

MARK SHIELDS: Better defense than Chuck Hagel.

DAVID BROOKS: Not that we care about ratings.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Forty — let me get this down, 42-17.

DAVID BROOKS: Forty-two to 17.

MARK SHIELDS: Twenty-four to 21.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I got it.

MARK SHIELDS: And — and the commercials …

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we are holding both of you to account.

MARK SHIELDS: All right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.

And Mark and David keep up the talk on The Doubleheader, recorded in our newsroom. That will be posted at the top of the Rundown later tonight.